We’ve all been thinking about the Hall of Fame a lot lately. In fact, this is my second such post in as many days, but I have an idea that I think is worth considering. It grows out of a Rob Neyer post where he mentions not wanting to support a player who would not not have been a Hall of Famer without steroids. This pushes someone like Mark McGwire off the list, for instance.
But here’s a question: If we’re docking players who weren’t clean, shouldn’t we give extra credit to those who were?
Think about it for a minute. The stat that gets tossed around the most in Hall of Fame discussions is WAR, but PEDs changed where the bar was set. The definition of what constituted a replacement player was different than it would have been without all those players getting extra help.
The best example I can think of is Fred McGriff. He is defined by his consistency. While playing for the Blue Jays in 1988, McGriff was, according to FanGraphs, worth 7.2 WAR. In 2001 putting up almost identical numbers, he was worth only 3.8 WAR. That’s still a good season, but the difference between 4 WAR and 7 WAR is the difference between an all-star and an MVP contender. How much of that perceived drop in value is the result of other players artificially raising the bar?
McGriff is a very marginal candidate now, but I’ve never heard him tied to PEDs. There’s no reason to think he wasn’t totally clean. And if he was clean and had played in a clean league, wouldn’t he have been worth more? Maybe 70 WAR instead of 61?
There are others. Kenny Lofton, Craig Biggio, Jeff Bagwell. Pick a player who has a decent case and hasn’t been tied to steroids at all and ask yourself how he might have been affected. From 1987 to 2002, Fred McGriff was almost exactly the same player every year. His value declined not because his performance changed (other than normal yearly fluctuations of course), but because offensive numbers around the league changed.
This is all getting very complicated. It’s a debate we’re going to be having for years and I wonder if, in a few years, we might regret that some players—like Lofton—fell off the ballot so quickly.